First Chapter Friday: Zone of Action
These are the men of the 94th ID. They fight with honor, they defend their nation and their brothers fiercely, and when they love, they do it with single-minded passion.
Jake Robinson is the most easy-going soldier in his battalion. For the last few months, he’s been watching his friends find love, commitment and even babies . . . but he knows that path isn’t for him. Been there, done that and got the scars to prove it.
Harper Drummond lives and breathes stress. A chef at an up-and-coming restaurant, she works long, demanding hours, and she doesn’t want or need a relationship. But every now and then, she likes to let off some steam under the covers with a willing partner.
The night Jake and Harper hook up is only meant to be a one-time deal. But when they realize they have connections they hadn’t expected–not to mention chemistry that is downright explosive–they decide that being friends with hot benefits makes perfect sense.
After all, it’s only sex, right?
Read the first chapter here!
“Man, you look like shit.” I dropped a hand onto my buddy Kade’s shoulder as I overtook him in the hall of the building where we worked. “Isn’t that kid sleeping yet?”
Kade shot me a narrow-eyed glare. “Yeah, Jake. She’s been sleeping solid for two weeks, but you know, Leah and I just party so much that we’re still staying up all night.” Sarcasm dripped from his exhausted words. “No, asshole, she’s still getting up three times a night.”
“Hey, hey.” I lifted my hands. “Don’t jump on me. I’m not the one who thought having a wife and baby would be a good idea.”
“Jake, you know what? Sometimes you can be a real douche.” He shook his head. “I wouldn’t change one fucking thing. Leah and Emma are the best two things that ever happened to me. I might not have planned for either of them, but, God, I can’t imagine living without them. They are my life now.”
A twinge of something uneasy slithered through my chest, but I ignored it. I was happy for Kade—even when I teased him, I knew he was on the level, and Leah and the baby really did make him deliriously content—but I also knew firsthand that shit like that could go bad fast, turning on a dime. I wasn’t going to share that with him, though. Between the sleep deprivation and his knee-jerk defensiveness about his new ready-made family, the dude just might drop me here and now.
Instead, I smiled at him. “Glad to hear it. Not every guy who goes on TDY and comes back with a wife and kiddo on the way ends up like you.”
“Don’t think I don’t know it,” he returned. “As a matter of fact, I was just getting ready to leave, so I can go home and relieve Leah. She needs a little break by this time of the afternoon.”
“You’re a good daddy.” I glanced at my watch. “I was about to head out, too. And I don’t even have the excuse of helping out the wife.”
“Yeah.” Kade smirked. “Friday night, huh? You and the guys hitting the bar? Or are you driving up to Richmond?”
I shrugged. “I think we’re staying local. And as far as the guys, it’s just me and Owen, unless I can talk Mac into coming along, too. The rest of you losers all hooked up with girlfriends or wives, and now there’s just a few of us left standing.”
Kade frowned. “I was just going to ask you about Derek. Shaw’s really worried about him.”
Our friend and fellow company commander, Derek McTavis, had been critically injured in an accident at air assault school several months back. He was home again, but he hadn’t recovered completely yet.
“I was planning to go check on him right now and see if I can persuade him to come out tonight. I’m not optimistic, though. He’s been a homebody ever since he got back here from Campbell, and he doesn’t even have the hot girlfriend excuse the rest of you do.”
“Yeah. From what I hear, they won’t clear him to come back to work yet, but he’s not doing much to change that. I invited him to come over for dinner, and he refused. Shaw said he skipped some appointments and blew off his meeting with the therapist the Army is requiring him to see.” Kade sighed. “If he doesn’t pull his shit together, he’s going to fuck up his whole career.”
“I’m not going to let that happen. None of us are.” I spoke with more assurance than I felt. “I’ll rattle his cage today, and then maybe we could all try to go over there this weekend and cheer him up. You know, we could watch the game, have some beers, just hang out.”
“Sounds like a good idea. I’ll see if I can work it out. I might have to bring Emma with me, though. I don’t like to leave Leah alone with her on the weekends if I can help it, since she shoulders so much during the week.”
“Eh, the baby’s too young for us to corrupt her yet, so you’re probably safe to bring her along.” I winked at him. “Okay, family man, I’ll let you get home to the little women.”
“Let me know how it goes with Derek.” He paused. “Have fun tonight, but not so much that I have to deal with anything on Monday, got it?”
I grinned. “You know me. I’m the soul of sound decisions and good choices.”
Kade rolled his eyes. “That’s what scares me.”
Among our group of captains who commanded companies in the 94th ID, about half of us lived in the barracks on post, and the others lived in homes off-post. I was in the first group; I didn’t have a need for my own space, and I liked the idea of banking the extra money the Army allotted us. Derek, though, had a townhouse about ten minutes from post in the city of Petersburg. I pulled up in front of his place a little while after I’d left Kade.
I frowned as I jogged up the walk that led to his door. We all teased Derek—or Mac, as we sometimes called him—about his beautiful landscaping. Keeping his grass trimmed and green, his flower beds weed-free and his mulch devoid of leaves or pine needles was almost an obsession with the guy, and more than once, he’d won the title of Best Maintained Yard from the homeowners’ association.
But today, the lawn was patchy, with brown spots creeping into the areas of overgrown grass. The bushes were overgrown, and the flowers’ heads were drooping and dead. Piles of crunchy leaves covered the beds and even scattered onto his small front porch. It was damn sad-looking, that was what it was.
I leaned on the doorbell and then followed that up with a quick pounding of my fist. “Yo, McTavis! Get your ass out here.”
For a solid three minutes, I didn’t hear a sound. I wondered if I’d somehow managed to stop during one of his appointments or if he’d actually left the house for another reason. And then there was a loud bang from within, followed by a dragging sound. I winced, picturing him pulling his leg across the hallway. Derek had been so active and vibrant not so long ago, and it killed me to see him defeated.
The door swung open, and Derek stared out at me. His eyes were dull and bleary, and his hair was longer than I’d ever seen it. The shirt that was hanging on his shoulders had several stains on it, and there might have been a smell.
“Dude.” I wagged my head. “Did you just get off a bender or what? You look like hell.”
He scowled and turned his back on me, moving away down the hallway into the house. “Yeah, fuck you very much, Robinson. Did you just come here on a mission of mercy to cheer up the invalid, or do you have a real reason for stopping by?”
I followed him and closed the door behind me. “I’m here because it’s Friday night, and we’re heading to the bar. Owen and I are, I mean. But I need my best wingman with me, so I’m really here to tell you to get your ass in gear and come with us.”
Derek lowered himself into a chair on the edge of his living room. I leaned against the arched doorway, watching him. Pain etched his face, and his jaw clenched. His eyes flickered up to meet mine.
“Some fucking wingman I’d be. I can’t even walk five steps to the door without needing a nap. Are you blind, Jake? Look at me.” He slumped, dropping his forehead into his hand. “I’m no good to anyone, and if you want to help me, just leave me the fuck alone.”
I perched on the bench across from Derek. “Not going to happen, buddy. I know you’re feeling rough right now, but—”
“Rough?” He sounded incredulous. “I’m not feeling rough. I’m in agony most of the time, and I can barely get around my house. I’m a soldier, and I can’t climb my own steps without someone around to make sure I don’t fall and break my neck—or my back again. So yeah, I’m feeling a little more than rough.”
“I get it.” I leaned forward. “I mean, I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through. But Max and Shaw told Kade that you’re skipping therapy appointments. And if you don’t start to get with the program, you’ll end up getting drummed out of the Army. I know that’s not what you want.”
He lifted one shoulder. “I don’t know what I want anymore. Maybe I’m not meant to be in the military after all. Maybe this is a sign that it’s time for me to leave. I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know anything right now.”
“Which is the perfect state of mind for you to be in when we go out and get hammered.” I smacked one hand on the seat of the bench for emphasis. “Come on. Get a shower, put on some clothes that have been through the washer recently, and let’s go. I’ll sit down here and channel surf while you’re getting ready.”
Derek scowled at me and ran a hand through his hair. “Not going to happen, Jake. I’m not interested. If I want to get wasted, I can do it right here in the comfort of my own home without having to worry about making a fool of myself by falling on my face in a crowded bar.”
I nodded. “Well, yeah, that you could do here on your own, but the chances of you picking up a hot piece of tail in your living room seem pretty damn slim. And I know that would cheer you up.”
“I don’t need to be cheered up, dickhead.” He rolled his eyes. “I’m not interested in that, either. In the hot pieces of tail, I mean.”
“Now I really am worried.” I leaned forward, resting my hands on my knees. “Since when is the Scottish stud not ready and willing to charm the ladies?” I paused as a new thought occurred to me. “Oh, fuck. Is it . . . are you having a systems failure down there, dude? Like, did the accident knock out something in central command?”
“No!” If it was possible, Derek looked even more pissed off at me. “No. Everything is just fine with my dick, thank you very much for your concern, asshole.” He glanced away, shaking his head. “Systems failure. Geez, man.”
“Okay, okay, sorry.” I held up my hands. I seemed to be making everyone annoyed with me today, and I really had no clue why. All my friends were way too sensitive. Like they were chicks or something. “I just don’t get why you don’t want to pick up girls. It’s a perfect way to boost your mood, any time of day or night.”
“Jake, look at me.” He spread his arms. “I’m a fucking mess. I can barely move. What woman in her right mind is going to be interested in someone like me, especially when there’re guys like you and Owen standing next to me? Last thing I need is a pity fuck, thank you very much.”
I was silent for a few minutes, digesting. “Okay. So don’t worry about the girls. Just come hang with us. I promise Owen and I are a lot more entertaining than anything you’ve got in this house. It’ll be good for you. Take your mind off your troubles and all that shit.”
“Jake, for the last fucking time, I’m not going. I want to be left alone. And if you could, be kind enough to pass that on to the rest of the crowd? I know you’ve all been taking turns checking on the pathetic guy, and it’s got to stop. I don’t need you. I just need—time. And space.”
“Sorry, Mac, no can do.” I rose and fisted my hands on my hips. “You’re one of us. We don’t leave our own alone.” I stopped, hearing what I’d just said. “Hey, that’s like a motto or something. We don’t leave our own alone.”
He shook his head, but I thought I saw his lip twitch. “Lame, Robinson. Fucking lame.”
“Well, I think it’s kind of inspired, but whatever. Anyway, we’re coming over Sunday to watch the game. You have beer in the fridge, or should we bring our own?”
“Don’t bring anything. Just stay away. For a while, at least.”
“We’ll be here around one or so. Oh, and don’t freak, but Kade’s probably bringing the rug rat. He likes to give Leah a break on weekends. Still, as much as he complains about her keeping them up, she’s always sound asleep whenever I see her, so she probably won’t bother us.”
“Okay, well, if you’re sure you don’t want to join us tonight, I guess I better get going.” I was a past master at ignoring what I didn’t want to hear, and this wasn’t any different. “If you change your mind, text me, and I’ll swing around. I’m heading back to post to get changed, and then I guess Owen and I will grab a RideIt over to the bar. You know, that new place just opened right outside town. I’ve heard the music is decent, and the booze is plentiful. In case you decide to join us later.”
“Not going to happen. And about Sunday—”
“Hey, no worries. We’ll bring the beer and some munchies, too. You just have the TV fired up, and it’s all good.” I stepped quickly to the hallway as Derek braced his hands on the arms of his chair. “Don’t get up, dude. I’m cool, I’ll see myself out. Catch you later.”
Before he could yell after me any threats about what might happen if we all turned up on Sunday, I bolted out the door and down the steps to my car, frowning all the way.
Shaw had been right about our friend. He was in a bad way, spiraling even lower. We had to do something before things got totally beyond our ability to help.
But that was something to think about on Sunday. Tonight was Friday, and the mission was all about the women and the alcohol.
Probably in that order. But maybe not.
The new place was only a few miles outside the city limits of Petersburg. As the RideIt driver—who’d been a chatty older man, a retired NCO eager to talk shop with two guys still in the service—pulled away, I surveyed the outside of the bar. It was neat and clean, a white-painted building with a single neon sign over the door. I could hear the music even from the parking lot.
Owen grinned at me. He was a little shorter than I was, with hair a few shades darker than my own, but over the ten years we’d been best friends, people had been confusing us for brothers on a regular basis. It had become a running joke between us because neither of us saw the resemblance.
“Sounds like our kind of place, brother.” He knocked his shoulder against mine. “How’re we going to divide them up tonight?”
“I’ll take the blondes and the red-heads, and you can have the brunettes.” I winked at him.
“Shit, man. That kind of logic presupposes that all the women in this bar have their natural hair color.” He shook his head in mock dismay.
“I think in this case we might have to trust them until we can prove otherwise.” I opened the door. “After you. And may the best man get the luckiest . . . at getting a chance to prove otherwise.”
It was dark inside, of course, but my eyes adjusted quickly. Owen and I threaded our way through the crowd and approached the bar, where we both ordered beers. I leaned my back against an empty stool, scanning the tables and dance floor.
It was a good mix of people, with a large percentage of the guys clearly from Fort Lee. The fact that we were outside of Petersburg meant fewer local men, and that was probably a good thing; sometimes the tensions between those who lived in town and those here temporarily with the Army made things a little difficult. But tonight, everything felt laid-back and relaxed.
And the range of women who were in the place was truly a sight to behold. There were tables full of girls who seemed to be just above drinking age, all of them dressed up and made up, casting furtive glances at the groups of men gawking at them. There were also several tables of older women who didn’t seem to care whether or not any of the guys even noticed them. I had a hunch most of those were married ladies, out to enjoy a rare night of freedom.
But the ones who caught my eye were the ones in between, who congregated around the bar and shimmied on the dance floor. They weren’t the shining-eyed girls looking for happily-ever-after or the been-there, done-that jaded ladies. They were young, independent women who were looking for the same thing I was—a night of fun, passion and no strings attached.
Owen finished his first beer, snagged a second, and lifted it to me, leaning closer as he nodded to our right. “I’m on brunettes, right? Check out the party girl at six o’clock.”
I glanced over, trying to keep it light and surreptitious, raising my eyebrows when I saw who he’d been eyeballing. Damn, he’d called dibs on a live one. She was all curves and softness, with long, fat black curls that hung down her back. Owen had a thing for long hair, and this chick definitely fit the bill.
“Nice.” I cocked my head. “But none of her friends are my type. You go ahead, and I’ll keep my eyes open.”
“Wish me luck.” He held up his bottle and clinked it against the neck of my beer.
“Not that you’ll need it.” I laughed, finishing our normal schtick. “Go get ‘em, tiger.”
I stood there a little longer, watching my friend’s progress without being too creepy about it. I’d noticed the girl’s eyes light up when she’d seen Owen heading her way, and now they were deep in flirtation. She had one of her curls wrapped around her finger, and her head was tilted as she blinked up at him. He had an arm braced on the bar behind her as he leaned in to say something in her ear that made her cheeks go bright red.
“And we have achieved lift-off, folks,” I murmured to myself. With a sigh, I shifted a little, sitting down on the stool I’d been leaning against and checking out the other side of the bar. I enjoyed watching people interact, letting my eyes wander over the lithesome female bodies. Even if not all of them appealed to me—or at least, not enough to make me get up and walk over there to make my interest known—I could appreciate the way they moved, the way their hair swished . . . yeah. I guessed it was the same as the way some people could enjoy a Picasso or a Rembrandt, even if they weren’t about to go up and plant a big old wet kiss on a painting.
And then I saw her.
She was standing on the edge of the dance floor next to another girl, but I didn’t pay any attention to her friend. All I could see was the woman in the short black dress; her shoulder-length hair was medium blonde, with streaks of red in it, which meant she was fair pickings for me. Her body was . . . well, fuck, it was perfection. Her ass was round, accented by the silky material of the dress, although I had a feeling that if she bent over, it might not cover all of that tempting bottom. She’d turned to the side, and her tits were amazing, too—by the way they moved under the low-cut neckline, I was fairly sure she wasn’t wearing a bra, which meant that jiggle was all her, with no help from any padding or push-up.
But honestly, it was the eyes that got me. They were huge, taking up most of her face, and bright green as I could see when she leaned over to speak to her friend. She was alive and sparkling, and fuck me if I didn’t spring a boner right there. I fidgeted on the barstool, trying to adjust myself without looking like that was what I was doing.
I was just about to get to my feet and make my way over toward her when the music changed, and all of the women in the room ooohed in unison. Yeah, I got it. It was P!nk, which meant epic chick song. Woman power and all that. But it also meant that the woman I was currently watching joined the rest of them thronging onto the dance floor. In a split second, I lost her.
Dancing—well, this kind of dancing—wasn’t really my thing, but when it was in the support of a good cause—for example, getting laid—I could get jiggy with the best of them. So I polished off the rest of my beer, set the empty on the bar, and began to meander toward the center of the room, where most of the females had congregated to shake, rattle, and roll.
I got sucked into the rhythm of the gyrating bodies, and more than one set of hands reached out to try to slow me down and draw me in. But I was searching for just one enticing ass, and I wasn’t willing to settle for what was convenient. Not when I knew that perfection was somewhere in here . . .
Aha! I spotted her head a few feet away and gently pushed my way in that direction. She had her arms in the air as she danced, singing along and making goofy faces at her girlfriend, who was doing the same thing across from her. Just before I reached them, a long-haired hipster came up behind the friend, and I slowed, watching the interchange as he made his move on her. The other girl appeared to be open to whatever he was suggesting, which I realized must have been leaving the floor to grab a drink when she gave the universal gesture for drinking.
As the two melted away, I took my chance, coming up behind the blonde until I was close enough that her very fine ass was nearly rubbing my dick. Nearly, but not quite. Not wanting to touch her before I asked permission—this time, anyway—I bent my head to murmur into her ear.
She startled, but not as much as I might have thought. Her face turned toward me, taking me in and checking me out, and I made a point of keeping my gaze steady on her eyes, not looking any lower, even though the temptation was pretty damn huge. I could tell when she’d decided to give me a chance.
“Want to dance?” I spoke low, near the side of her face.
She smiled, lifting her head to look up at me. “I thought I was dancing.”
A half-smile curved my lips. She was feisty, and I liked that. “I mean, do you want to dance with me?”
She didn’t answer right away. Instead, she took a step backward, and her eyes traveled down me, very blatantly taking my measure without any trepidation. I stood still, letting her check me out, the heat of her gaze raking over me as though her fingertips were doing the work. Damn, this woman was something else. I was willing to bet there wasn’t a shy bone in her body.
When she’d finished, she eased closer to me, almost pressing against my body, her unfettered tits grazing my chest as she reached up to circle her arms around my neck.
“Is it really just a dance you’re asking me for?”
For a solid minute, I forgot the answer to that question. Hell, I forgot my own fucking name. All I could remember was the way her eyes held mine and the allure of the parts of her touching the parts of me. I wanted her, and I wanted her now. I pictured myself lifting her dress and settling her over my throbbing cock. I felt her boobs in my palms, even though right now, my hands were securely around her back, not even grasping her ass.
Steeling myself not to give away too much too fast, I dropped my mouth to her ear again.
“I’m not limiting any of our options, sugar. But let’s start with a dance and see where that leads.”
You can read the rest of Zone of Action here:
Peace, love and romance~